Amazon Alexa with Echo and Dot

When Amazon first hinted at the idea of the Echo – an always listening, always connected internet voice recognition device – I was immediately interested. When they offered an early release purchase to Prime members I jumped on it and then had to bribe some friends to order me more at the bargain early adopter price! That was a couple of years ago now and my house is full of Echos and Dots now.

The early days of Alexa had limited functionality because the skills were limited and even Amazon didn’t seem to know what was really possible. However, even then I liked it because I could still use it to play music, check the weather, add things to my shopping list and set timers/alarms.

Google just released Google Home which is the Echo competitor, but I am not very interested in it. At heart I don’t really trust Google with privacy issues. Amazon feels (yes, subjective!) like they would be more careful or at least not exploit information about me outside of how to sell more Amazon products to me. Somehow that makes me feel better.

The other thing I like about Amazon and the Alexa platform is they are opening the technology up to outside developers and third parties and not making this a closed system – ala Apple. With the idea of being the home hub for all smart devices Amazon is looking at the long picture and I think it will pay off big time. Making it easy for other manufacturers to integrate with Alexa will keep the platform developing much faster than if it was just reliant on Amazon to develop custom products.

As a consumer and early adopter I don’t really want to invest all in one platform and find out I have a wonderful, but obsolete setup. Spending less then $50 for a smart plug or smart bulb makes it easier to scale my investment in a smart household. With the Dot being largely available for $40 over the festive period it makes the idea of having Alexa in every room of your house much less outrageous.

With the Alexa skills open to anyone to develop for there are all sorts of skills (like apps, but for Alexa) that you can use. There are interactive games, recipes, tools – I can listen to my Ooma voicemails, and fun things. Everyone always loves the fart skill 🙂

I have avoided the smart locks so far, just seems a little too dubious to my mind at the moment. I don’t need to be locked out of my house because we lost power or something. As with all technology I think it will grow and improve greatly so I am quite happy to stick with a few large plugs for now in the anticipation some much neater implementations will be forthcoming soon enough.

For now I am more than satisfied with having Spotify available in virtually any room I am in and I can check the weather! The voice recognition works very well on the whole and I have an accent. Moving to America taught me to pronounce my words a bit more clearly, just to save having to repeat myself 20 times. I think Alexa appreciates that too…

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Coin – many cards in 1

Update: 20th Dec 2016
Unfortunately Coin was bought and subsequently shutdown before even Coin 2.0 was released. It was a nice idea, but I suspect the market is too saturated with competing and incompatible payment methods at the moment. At least Apple Pay is being accepted in more places.

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Recently I have been using the Coin credit card device https://onlycoin.com/. This credit card sized device can contain the details of many credit cards at once. There is a great video on their website showing how it works. When you go to buy something you simply push a button on the card to select the credit card details you want to swipe with. No more bulky wallet for multiple credit cards!

It uses Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone or Android to unlock – so even if you left your Coin behind accidentally it will be locked out for anyone else to use. It also records the last location it was used at so you can go back and retrieve it if you left it.

There is a tap tap code you can use to unlock it without your phone, but I haven’t found that to be very easy yet. Out of all the places I have tried to use it only one place was not able to read the card, so I always card 1 back up card just in case.

The fun part is when you hand it to someone to swipe and they are looking at it and always ask me what it is – and then what a cool idea it is. I concur! The Coin 2.0 will be out soon which will work with chip enabled cards I will be interested to see how they implement this for multiple cards.

When you purchase the Coin it comes with a card swipe you plug into the headphone socket on your phone. Like how the Square payment method works. Using this you can swipe each card and save it to the Coin app and take a photo of the card. These details are then synced across Bluetooth to your Coin.

I will be very happy when I receive my Coin 2.0 for one major feature – the ability to give each card a nickname! The Coin screen just shows the card type (VISA, DISC) and the last 4 digits of the card number – so much easier to give each card a nickname.

Overall I am very happy with Coin and have found my wallet is nice and slim now – just got my Coin, debit card and driver license. Until Apply Pay becomes widespread this is a great alternative that works the majority of the time.

Mota G2 Lite Smartwatch review

In my email last week I saw a Groupon offer for the Mota G2 smartwatch (sold out now) reduced to $49.99 for the original or $59.99 for the newer model. Of course, I liked the snazzy silver/red version which only comes in the newer model. I read the reviews for it on Amazon and it sounded like it would be fun to try out.

Mota G2 Lite

Mota G2 Lite

 

Shipping was fast – even though the tracking said estimated receive date was a week after when I actually received it. The box itself has been shipped in a lightly padded envelope and had got slightly damaged – just cosmetic, but still. The watch came almost fully charged which was a pleasant surprise – I don’t like to have to wait to play. Pairing the watch to my iPhone 5S was easy and after I read the manual I did set the correct time.

I will pause at this point to say I think this watch is more of a dumb smartwatch than a smart smartwatch! Really, I am waiting very impatiently for the long rumored Apple iWatch and this experience just reinforced my feeling that Apple is more likely to make something ‘smart’. For instance, why couldn’t the G2 get the time from the phone???

FEATURES

If you go to the Mota website and read about the features of the G2 it seems to do everything you would want in a low entry point device:

  • It has Bluetooth connectivity to both Android and Apple;
  • Vibrates with caller ID so you can decide to accept or ignore call;
  • Can be used as hands free speakerphone with built in speakers and microphone;
  • Can stream your music through the built in speakers;
  • Alerts when you go more than 10ft away from your phone;
  • Can be used to connect to Siri or Google Now for voice commands;
  • Looks stylish in a Star Trek communicator way.

This all sounds great – I was excited to get this device. The big thing for me was to get one button access to Siri without having to dig my phone out of my pocket or purse. I am still waiting to get this – no combination of button pushes could get this to work – unless I activated it from the phone first which defeats the purpose completely! The manual says to press button B which will change the display to speak and press button A to confirm. Nope, couldn’t get this to work and spent half the time turning the watch off by accident pressing button B for various lengths of time.

The watch did actually not look too bad on my wrist and the fit was comfortable – not too loose and not too tight. The display was clear enough, but a bit boring and small – no color. It was annoying to have to turn the screen on to display the time – some sort of motion sense or something should kick that off. It is a lot wider than my Jawbone Up band and I don’t think I would wear this out if I was dressed up.

Mota G2

Mota G2 Lite

Mota G2 Lite

I will say the streaming music and speakerphone for phone calls did work very well. Again, not sure how much I would really want to speak to my wrist and have everyone hear the caller. It was a novelty feature – I did want to access Siri this way and add calendar events quickly.

As for notifications, they only work for phone calls – I wanted to at least be able to see if there were any texts or messages I was missing. This is why I say the phone was more dumb than smart – there is no logic in this, it is purely a Bluetooth repeater.  I don’t want to have to turn my phone to silent before a meeting and then turn it back off when I come out of it. I watch my smart watch to figure out when I am in a meeting and silence my phone and vibrate notifications to me. At least vibrate to remind me I left the phone in silent mode!

Finally, the proximity alert for when you are more than 10ft from the phone seemed like a nice idea – except I now realize I purposely leave my phone quite often and I don’t need an alert about it. I do not take my phone the the bathroom, nor do I take it with me to pick up lunch at the cafe downstairs and I definitely don’t have it with me at all times in the house. If I am expecting a call I might have it with me more often, but this alarm thing was just too annoying. Then when you come back in range of the Bluetooth it beeps quite loudly. How about understanding my routine and only alerting me when I leave the phone outside of my normal locations?

Conclusion

I guess this foray into smart/dumb watches has more clearly defined in my head what I am really looking for in a smartwatch – hopefully the iWatch meets these desires:

  • Smart silences phone and vibrate watch when in meetings;
  • Smartly figure out if I am forgetting my phone or purposely leaving it;
  • One button access to Siri and display the results on the screen as well as talk them;
  • Access to phone contacts to initiate text message or voice call easily;
  • Have Bluetooth priority options – in the car always connect to the car first, etc
  • Always display the time or at least make it display when movement is detected;
  • Remind me of events/meetings or appointments I have coming up;
  • Importantly: look cool and stylish on either male or female wrists!

The Mota G2 has been repackaged and the return label printed off to send it back to its masters. Santa is however ready to order an iWatch so roll on Sept 9th Apple event – I am waiting!!!

 

Retail Therapy

I was just reading a blog about the mistakes that JC Penney made trying to rebrand and the failure of the new CEO to listen or plan – see story here.  It did get me thinking that out of all the retail stores around, clothing is ripe for innovation.

Not just innovation in the actual clothes, like smart jackets & socks, but the actual retailing of clothes. For the majority of things that you drive to a store and buy, you can just as easily go online and buy. Clothes though have always been different. You have to be able to try them on, feel the material, see what the colors really look like or how something just hangs on you.

Last week I ordered a swimsuit from Macy’s – mainly because trying on swimsuits is an exercise in torture anyway and also because the one that was on sale wasn’t available in-store. So I paid the extra $10 shipping grudgingly only to have the darn thing arrive and not fit. Smart me thinks I will just pop on down to the local store and exchange it for a different size. No, no, no. They don’t have any of a different size at the store, but they can order it online for me. Sure, except I only get refunded the price I paid, the in-store price of the item is more than the online price and even if I get them to match the online price I will have to pay shipping again! WHAT?

Well don’t you know that Macy’s stores is a different company from Macys.com? No I didn’t as I am trying to buy a swimsuit and not make selections of stock for my 401k. So I was actually lucky that the sales assistant was willing to match the online price. This just blew my mind – in this day of mobile and ‘show rooming’ and AMAZON, a major brand with a lot of high street locations is acting like it is 2005. Your online and physical shopping experience should be seamless to the consumer. I don’t care if your online website is owned by China, as long as I can buy online, return in-store and not feel like I am being ripped off. They should be playing up the advantages of having all these retail locations, not punishing us for going to them. Lesson learned – only shop at physical location with smartphone in hand to find coupons and price matches with online retailers – including the one you are currently in!

Anyway, even that was not really where I think the innovation needs to happen to really blow open the clothing retail experience. What we need is a way to be able to try on those online clothes at home. There have been starts and stops as various retails have tried to roll out measuring machines where you can go in, get a 360 degree profile and then use that online, but that profile is only good a for a little while and who wants to go back and get measured every 2 months?

What you want is a way to measure at home and have that saved to an online profile where you can then see the clothes on your virtually. The Kinnect app from Xbox already does a good job for some of the fitness apps of showing you on-screen in 3D in real time. Merge that technology with a virtual tape measure and you might get something that consumers will use.

At the end of the day it has to be quick and easy and ACCURATE!!!  The retailer would need to actually scan each item and each size of an item to get the correct measurements in the system initially, but think of the money you save in not having to issue as many refunds and how much more sales you make!

Using Google Glasses to be social?

I just had a thought as I was driving to work this morning. Usually I have a number of thoughts, but this one made me pay more attention to it!

Later today I have a meeting and I was trying to decide if I should take my netbook in with me or not. On the one hand, it might be useful to access some of the websites we will be talking about. Then again, there will already be one person there with a laptop and we may spend more time talking than looking at a screen.

The major thing putting me off is because I just think it feels rude to plop down opposite someone and then immediately open a laptop which creates a very physical barrier. We are only going to be in an office, not a conference room so it feels even more rude!

And then I had my epiphany – wouldn’t it be so much better if we could all access a display but not have anything blocking us – like if we all had Google Glasses on and could access our own screens without those screens blocking real eye contact the rest of the time!!!!

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Hah – I should patent this idea! It just makes so much sense to me though – a room of people around a table who can all be accessing their own work, but not be blocking off the flow of conversation too. Obviously, if you are all going to be looking at the same information then you can display it on a screen for everyone to see, but for those times when you are live updating or testing something this would be much less intrusive.

Thankfully, my big thought did not distract me from driving too much and I made it safely to work 🙂

Technology for college

Just last week someone was asking for my help – they need to get a laptop because their kid is off to college this summer. Could I help them pick something out? I went off searching the Sunday paper sale pages – ok, I surfed to the sites weekly deals pages. There wasn’t really much interesting though and as I started looking at different features it struck me I was doing this all  wrong.

I called my friend and had a different suggestion. Sure, I could pick something out, but what we really need to do is sit down with his daughter and figure out what she wants. More specifically, how does she think she will use the tech at college.

What screen size does she want in a laptop? Does she even really want or need a laptop or would a tablet do? Is this something to do homework on in the evening or something that will be going into class with her? What kind of mobile phone does she currently have? Will she need extensive use of a CD/DVD drive, occasional use or is everything in the cloud?These questions will help narrow down what will suit her best – then we can look for deals!

Luckily I think we have every possible combination of screen, tablet or netbook at my house and suggested maybe my friend and his daughter come over and she can take a look at the options and see how they differ in person. If they are really lucky I might even provide dinner!

WiFi storage for your smartphone on the go

For Christmas I had requested a new gadget for myself – the Ravpower RP-WD01 Wifi disk. As the resident gadget geek I figured I better review this device so that other people can benefit from the awesomeness of it!!!

What prompted me to want a WiFi disk in the first place?
I use my iPhone as my camera while I am travelling – it is always with me, usually in my hand, takes decent photos and videos, and is easy to use. The problem I ran into was running out of storage space and having to delete photos or videos so that the next day I had room again. I don’t like to carry a laptop unless I am working – so an iTunes backup wasn’t possible. My plan had been to just connect to the hotel WiFi and upload the files to Dropbox. Nice idea if the WiFi signal had been stronger than 0.00000002 kb/s on a good day!

When I got my new iPhone 5S I was impressed with the AirDrop functionality to share files, contacts, photos with other iPhone users around me. I wondered if there was an external drive that could do the same thing for files? A search of the web didn’t find me an AirDrop drive, but I did come across the Ravpower WiFi drive.

What is a Wifi drive?
This device creates its own WiFi network when you turn it on – then you connect your device to this network and open an app to move files between the device and the drive – or just open the drive files on your device.

So at the end of each day on my travel adventures I can simply turn on this drive, connect to the WiFi and drag all my photos and video from the phone to the drive!

And its really fast – I was able to move from my iPhone to the drive, on average 100 photos and/or movies in about 2 mins. Beat that crappy hotel WiFi – probably have taken me 2 mins just to log into the Dropbox site!

Its not just a drive though
No, this little beauty is a multipurpose gadget for under $50. The actual device doesn’t have any on-board storage – you use SD cards (or micro-SD cards with an SD adapter) or attach an external USB drive. This gives you flexibility in how you organize your storage – back up everything to a hard drive and store just music or photos on different SD cards.

 NAS File Server
Up to 5 devices can connect to the WiFi and view/share photos, music and videos. You can even have 2 people watching different movies at the same time – great for travelling families!

WiFi Hotspot
Connect the drive to your local WiFi network and it can become a hotspot for other devices. Share files and access the internet at the same time.

Backup Battery Charger
The drive charges via a micro USB post – cable is included in the package. It is a 3000 mAh charger so you can keep your smartphone taking pictures for a wee bit longer.

Transfer files between devices and laptop
This one was not so much of a big deal to me – there are windows and Mac apps that can be used to access the drive via WiFi so that files can be copied over. My point of having the device was to make carrying a laptop not necessary – or I could copy my photos into iTunes.

I did use this to copy my entire iTunes music library onto an SD card so that I can access all my music on the road without having to stream via cellular service unless I want to.

Does this work with Android and Apple?
It certainly does – there is an iOS app to use with it and an Android version too.

What about a PC or Mac?
Yes again, instructions and software can be found on the Ravpower download page.

How much does it cost?
Currently the drive can be picked up on Amazon for $45 – Prime members will get free shipping with that too. The apps are free.